Last updated: 04:10 PM ET, Thu March 05 2015

The Disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, One Year Later

Airlines & Airports | Malaysia Airlines | Rich Thomaselli | March 05, 2015

The Disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, One Year Later

A year ago, on March 8, Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared from radar screens on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

A year ago, Flight 370 made an inexplicable left turn from its flight path and was never heard from again.

A year ago, exhaustive search efforts were made in areas thousands of square miles apart, with not a single shred of evidence found anywhere.

A year later, what have we learned? That time has brought no resolution to the greatest aviation mystery ever, nor any comfort to the families and friends of the 239 people on board who have since been declared dead, if only for their loved ones to receive compensation packages from the troubled airline.

Malaysian officials last year finally, reluctantly, said the plane came to rest at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. Where? No one knows.

Calling it the greatest aviation mystery ever is certainly no hyperbole. With all due respect to other tragedies and unsolved cases, notably the enduring legacy of Amelia Earhart, this was 2014 we are talking about when the flight disappeared, a time when we have the most sophisticated instrumentation and tracking ability than at any other period in aviation history.

Or do we?

If there is anything we learned in the last year it is a need for better tracking. That’s why, earlier this week, it was announced that Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia will lead a trial of an enhanced method of tracking aircraft over remote areas to allow planes to be more easily found should something happen similar to Flight 370, the Associated Press reported.

Australian Transport Minister Warren Truss told the AP that, currently, planes are tracked every 30 to 40 minutes. The new system would allow aircraft to be tracked every 15 minutes – and every five minutes if the plane deviated from its flight plan without authorization from air traffic control.

"This is not a silver bullet," said Angus Houston, chairman of AirServices Australia, a government-owned agency that manages Australian airspace. "But it is an important step in delivering immediate improvements to the way we currently track aircraft while more comprehensive solutions are developed."

Better tracking certainly might have played a role in finding Flight 370, and getting to a true cause of the disappearance – although wild conspiracy theories have abounded, everything from terrorism, to being captured by an alien spacecraft, to landing in a remote area and covering the plane in a hangar undetected by radar, to pilot suicide.

One of the more plausible theories that emerged was a lengthy piece written for Wired magazine by pilot Chris Goodfellow, who suggested a fire in the cockpit. That, he said, would have made a pilot with 18,000 flying hours – such as the pilot of Flight 370 – look for the nearest landing strip, hence the dramatic and inexplicable left turn. An electrical fire would also explain the loss of communication, and smoke would also explain the possibility that the pilots and passengers died from smoke inhalation and the plane flew aimlessly for several more hours until crashing into the sea.

As for Malaysia Airlines, the company was in financial straits long before the disappearance of Flight 370 and the tragic shooting down of Flight 17 over Ukraine barely four months later in July. The two tragedies sent the company spiraling even further, and it announced this week it would lay off a third of its staff and reduce aircraft fleet capacity by 10 percent.

Malaysia Airlines could have a new branding image – maybe even a new name – later this summer.

But it will still have its heartbreaking past.

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